Members of the Arnhem community, including Lofty Bardayal
Nadjamerrek, with Environment Minister Marion Scrymgour and
researchers Jeremy Russell Smith and Peter Cooke
A LANDMARK agreement between Indigenous land managers,
government and the energy industry, is set to boost fire management
in the Top End, reduce greenhouse gas emissions as well as provide
meaningful jobs for people on country and benefits to the
The West Arnhem Fire Management Agreement (WAFMA) project is a
partnership between the Northern Territory Government, Darwin
Liquefied Natural Gas, the Northern Land Council and Traditional
Owners from coastal Maningrida, to the headwaters of the Katherine
and Mann rivers, as a strategy for offsetting greenhouse gas
emissions from the Wickham Point Gas Plant.
"This is an historic agreement-a first of its kind for the
world-that brings together the world's oldest cultures with Western
science," the NT's Environment Minister, Marion Scrymgour said. "It
is also the first time that a major energy company has formed a
partnership with Aboriginal Traditional Owners to foster a return
to traditional fire management regimes leading to a subsequent
reduction in greenhouse gases."
As part of the arrangement, Darwin Liquefied Natural Gas will
provide around $1 million every year for the next 17 years to
Aboriginal Traditional Owners of western Arnhem Land to implement a
fire burning strategy. Patchy burns will be implemented across the
landscape to better protect the Arnhem Land Plateau from the
wildfires that occur late in the year. The burns will break up the
fuel available for destructive fires. Limiting wildfires will in
turn reduce the emission of greenhouse gases from that landscape.
Savanna fires are the greatest source of greenhouse gas emissions
for the Northern Territory. Based on estimates for 2004, burning of
savannas contributes 41% of the NT's accountable emissions.
Patchy grass fires, however, emit fewer greenhouse gases than
wildfires which can kill trees. If a mosaic of patch burns limits
the spread of wildfires, less of the landscape is burned and fewer
greenhouse gases emitted. Reducing emissions in this way from the
west Arnhem Plateau will offset greenhouse gas emissions from the
Liquefied Natural Gas plant at Wickham Point.
Research coordinated by the TS-CRC and involving CSIRO,
Bushfires NT, the Australian Greenhouse Office, NT's Department of
Natural Resources Environment and the Arts, and Western Australia's
Department of Land Information underpinned the feasibility of the
"The Tropical Savannas CRC will be contracted to monitor and
report on greenhouse gas emissions during the agreement," said Dr
Jeremy Russell-Smith, fire ecologist with the Bushfires NT and
A major outcome is that the agreement will provide meaningful
jobs for people in the long term, with a host of benefits to the
communities involved, said Jeremy. These include:
- providing role models and better career paths for Aboriginal
children-a focus of the project.
- supporting transfer of Indigenous knowledge between generations
as elders work with young people.
- helping people re-establish contact with traditional
- building English skills and cross-cultural confidence essential
to economic activities such as tourist enterprises.
- supporting partnerships between remote communities leading to
improved social and economic coordination.
Limiting wildfires will also help conserve environmental and
cultural values of the Plateau. These include numerous rock art
sites and around 77,000 ha of rainforest which are being damaged by